Tracking event hashtags on Twitter has grown a ton in popularity over the last few years, ever since Twitter exploded at SXSW. It’s easy to do using Twitter Search by inputting the hashtag for the event. It’s not a perfect system – sometimes there’s too much noise, spam creeps in, etc. – but it’s still a decent way of getting real-time news about an event. (Suggestion: If you use Twitter Search include “-RT” in the search criteria so you eliminate all the retweeting activity that takes place.)
But is the real value in following event hashtags about catching up on real-time news?
Not really. Ultimately people will write blog posts (w/ more in-depth analysis) summarizing the conference you’re tracking, and you can use that as a way of catching up. And as valuable as real-time data is, tracking a very busy conference is overwhelming and distracting.
The real value (and fun) in following event hashtags is discovering new people to follow and build relationships with.
Events are great for discovering intersecting interests. They’re great for seeing who is active in a specific field or around a specific topic, and because of all the concentrated Twitter activity taking place in a short period of time, you also get a good sense of who knows who and how people are connected.
In the last couple of days I’ve followed two events – Social Recruiting Summit (#srs09 + #socialrecruiting) and 140 Characters Conference (#140conf). During that time I followed 50+ people at least, and many of those people reciprocated. Each one was actively using Twitter, and I was able in a very short time to gauge their interests and value (to me as a follower).
Event monitoring via hashtags and Twitter will improve. I know there are companies working on how to distill the best information from hashtags (with the main use case being for events), so that you can track the best tweets in real-time and reduce the noise. That’s great, and I look forward to seeing those solutions emerge, but at the end of the day, the real value is in discovering people to follow with mutual interests, who can provide you with meaningful value (and of course vice versa.)